A Musical Museum at Thorp Elementary (2009-2010)

The Question

What elements make up most classical music? How does Mussorgsky use these elements to create different scenes in Pictures at an Exhibition? How can different performance styles bring these scenes to life?

The Process

Through a partnership with Ravinia, Fifth House Ensemble brought students at Thorp Elementary a thorough exploration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Students learned about the titles and imagery associated with each of the movements, beginning with creating lyrics to the opening Promenade.Through studies of other classical works, students learned how to evaluate the mood, animal, action, and color of different pieces, and how a musician uses this information to tell a complete story. Through creative activities such as becoming a live art exhibition and new twists on “Old McDonald”, students understood musical aspects such as dynamics, tempo, rhythm, and performance practice.

The Final Project

For the final project, each class participating in the residency created their own “exhibition” of a movement from Pictures at an Exhibition. Students demonstrated their new knowledge of music by walking in time, creating characters that represented their movement, and writing a simple story reflecting on the titles of the movements. The presentations were then strung together with the help of the teachers and accompanied by members of Fifth House Ensemble. The performance was open to the entire school community, including students, teachers, administrators, and families.